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Artillery Row

Nigel Farage rides again

The Brexit Party is readying itself to oppose a bad deal with the EU

There is that scene in so many movies, in so many books, where the old warrior, seeing the overturn of his life’s work, straps on his battered breastplate, holsters-up, or puts a battered pen to paper. It is one of the great plotlines of fiction, because it has an echo in the real world.

Right now, Nigel Farage is looking at the last twenty years of his life and reaching for the buckles.

The fact is that there is another theme, and this one has no correlation in popular fiction but is a truth universally acknowledged over the past 40 years. The Tory party, desirous of a fat majority, will sell the country out over Europe.

There is nobody in Britain’s political landscape who knows how to apply pressure better than Farage

The simple fact is that this Government had the opportunity to do something about our negotiations with the EU in the months after the election. They had a whopping great majority and the goodwill of the nation. Boris had used his ebullience to present the country with a vision that with one bound we would be free, the deal was oven-ready, he was going to get Brexit done. Yes, he had inherited the Withdrawal Agreement, a deeply duff deal, from his predecessor. His resignation as Foreign Secretary over it gave us the confidence that he recognised it as such. And yet on the 25 January, a mere month after his triumphant election victory, he signed that same duff deal and condemned the country to this slow lingering betrayal. It was not necessary to do so, he could have pointed to the election, the vote, and with the support of the country gone to Brussels and made it clear he would not sign. This he signally failed to do.

So here we are again, with the EU making threatening noises, taking legal action with leaks coming out of Berlin and London suggesting that the UK is prepared to make more concessions. A No 10 spokesman confirmed that “The PM will be speaking to President von der Leyen tomorrow afternoon to take stock of negotiations and discuss next steps.”

According to Bruno Waterfield of The Times, “This is seen broadly as a good sign – if, as expected, the British prime minister is ready to signal a bit more give on fish, state aid and subsidy control”.

Note the “more give” – there has already been a lot of giving.

The thing is that Boris is beset with problems, with the Remain lobby, both on his own green benchers and elsewhere; yet again digging up dire predictions of economic meltdown, the CBI taking the lead. The ERG group of Tory sceptics have been oddly quiet, focusing more on Covid-19 than on the clear danger of a failed Brexit. There is no pressure on one side, and a great tidal wave of it pushing him to make a deal at any cost.

Then there is the electoral arithmetic. This shouldn’t matter so far out from an election, but the rumours of Boris’s political demise and the currents swirling around the Chancellor make Labour’s slight lead in the polls a matter of concern. Labour is beginning to solidify after years of infighting, but it is not cutting into Tory support.

That is where Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party come in. This week the Party has started to brush the sleep from its eyes as it realises that the government is prepared to sell the country out yet again. His role over the years was not to provide a real electoral threat: he hasn’t been – and isn’t now – in a position to top any Westminster poll, but there is nobody in Britain’s political landscape who knows better how to apply pressure.

Take 10 percent out of the Tory polling numbers and that spells disaster for this administration

A revamped and active Brexit Party could easily reach 10 percent in the polls, perhaps significantly more, as people see quite how far the government is prepared to go to secure a deal, any deal. The thousands of activists are up in arms, and the former candidates are straining at the bit to do something. They are angry, not just about the government failures on Brexit, but the sight of a Conservative Government in headlong retreat in the culture wars, and its ever-growing habit of state control and heavy-handed Covid-19 restrictions. These activists are ready to get working.

As one insider put it to me yesterday after I had put out a statement that the Brexit Party was gearing-up its campaigning: “Number 10 will have had a severe tightening of the gut when they got wind of what you are up to”. Take 10 percent out of the Tory polling numbers and that spells disaster for this administration.

Farage knows this. Boris has been lucky up until now having nothing on his Eurosceptic flank. But his own failures have ended his good fortune. There is something on that flank, and it has the energy and experience to make things very uncomfortable.

In all those stories that we watch and read, the veteran, brought back from retirement to engage in one last mission, finds the going tough. But in the end, despite the vicissitudes and the hard work, he is invariably triumphant.

Would anybody in Number 10 like to take a bet out against Farage pulling it off again?

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